In Summary
  • One of the many commitments that the ruling NRM party made in the manifesto that it released in the run up to the 2016 general election was to boost agricultural production so as to improve personal incomes and national revenue collections.
  • Well, a few days shy of two years since President Museveni swore in for the term in which the plan was meant to be operationalised, nothing seems to be happening on that front and there is no indicator that something will be done any time soon.
  • Sources in the Ministry of Agriculture also indicated that the farmers’ registration had been budgeted for and earmarked to take place this financial year, but has been pegged back following disagreement between the ministry and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) over who should conduct it. UBOS is reportedly pushing for its implementation on grounds that the ministry does not have the required technical capacity.

The promise:
One of the many commitments that the ruling NRM party made in the manifesto that it released in the run up to the 2016 general election was to boost agricultural production so as to improve personal incomes and national revenue collections.

According to the party, one of the ways of boosting agriculture between 2016 and 2021 would be by introducing what it described as a “Four-Acre Land Model”.
“The NRM in the next five years will undertake the following…mobilise and support small scale farmers along the four-acre model concept where: one acre is dedicated to a perennial cash crop such as coffee, tea and cocoa.

One acre is dedicated to fruits, one acre is dedicated to pasture for dairy cattle for daily income and one acre is dedicated to growing of food for food security and high value crops such as vegetables,” the manifesto reads in part.

Under the plan, homesteads with land holdings of up to five acres would be selected to participate in the scheme. They were to, among other things, receive agricultural implements and inputs to increase production and yields.
Beneficiaries were, depending on their religious affiliations and what they found to be socially acceptable, meant to be assisted to start up either poultry or piggery projects in their backyards.

According to the manifesto, the model was meant to be complimented by activities such as distribution of improved seeds, provision of planting and breeding materials and tutoring farmers in improved methods of postharvest handling, construction of shortage facilities countrywide and encouraging value addition.
The goal of these interventions was that beneficiary homesteads would be able to earn at least Shs25 million a year.
Such homesteads were expected to earn between Shs7 million and Shs10m from an acre of a cash crops such as coffee, Shs10m from an acre of fruits, Shs3m from dairy farming activities and the rest from either poultry or piggery.

According to the manifesto, with such incomes, beneficiary households would be able to move into to a “middle income status”.
At a national level, these interventions had been expected to lead to a sharp increase in export earnings.
Earnings from coffee had been expected to rise because government had heavily invested in the distribution of coffee seedlings between 2013 and 2016 as part of efforts to move farming communities into commercialised farming.
Coffee exports were expected to increase from 3.6 million bags (216 million tonnes) to six million bags (360 million tonnes).

Maize exports were also expected to increase from 185,000 metric tonnes to 1.5 million metric tonnes; beans from 32,000 metric tonnes to 500,000 metric tonnes and tea from 65,000 metric tonnes to 130,000 metric tonnes.
Well, a few days shy of two years since President Museveni swore in for the term in which the plan was meant to be operationalised, nothing seems to be happening on that front and there is no indicator that something will be done any time soon.

Within a few months, government will be unveiling a budget for the financial year 2018/19. The budget’s focus is on improving production and productivity in primary sectors of growth; namely tourism, manufacturing, mineral development and agriculture.

While there has been a slight increment in the nominal budgetary allocation to the agriculture sector from Shs828.5b the financial year ending to Shs831.7b next financial year, the budget framework paper indicates that no money has been budgeted for the implementation of the four-acre land model.

Impact
According to the manifesto, the main objective was to boost agricultural production which would in turn lead to increased incomes at both increased household earnings and national revenue earnings. Those have so far not been realised.
There has been very little headway in attempts to mechanise agriculture. The hand hoe remains the biggest farming tool. It is estimated that between 90 and 93 per cent of farm holdings in the country cultivate using the hand hoe, a scenario which has undermined production.

The promised agricultural tools and inputs that would have boosted production levels are hard to come by as Operation Wealth Creation (OWC), the vehicle that was meant to have availed them has been found wanting.
In May last year, the parliamentary committee on Agriculture released a report arising out of a countryside tour it had carried out to assess the performance of OWC in the financial year 2016/2017, in which it indicted the programme for, among other things, procuring poor quality seeds and animal stocks and distributing inputs, seeds and seedlings without first carrying out a needs assessment, which often resulted into farming communities getting stuff that they did not need.
The MPs called for the programme to wound up on grounds that it has been wasteful and promoted a culture of dependence among the country’s farming communities.

The legislators said farming communities often sell their produce, leaving nothing for either future consumption or seeds for planting in the next season because of lack of storage facilities.
It is currently being reviewed with an aim of improving the mode of operations. It is, however, not clear whether the review will adopt the MPs’ recommendation to scrap free distribution of seeds and animal stocks, which they said was promoting a culture of dependence.

What they say
“When you are involved in small scale farming, you do all the labour as a family but when you are involved in commercial agriculture, you cannot do all the work yourself and, therefore, you must hire people…With over 40 million acres of land for agriculture, Ugandans are not producing enough rice but are instead importing rice,” President Museveni

“How many people have four acres of land? It would have been a great idea if it were based on facts on the ground, but it is not. If President Museveni had any decency, he would first go to the Uganda Bureau of Statistics and find out the average land holding,” Francis Barnabas Gonahasa, Kabweri County MP, Kibuku District and Shadow Minister for Agriculture

“The four acre model is an ingenious option through which farmers can optimise production. Through this model, prudent homesteads can maximize returns from four acres of land through highly efficient mixed farming practices,” Moses Watasa, Commissioner in Charge of Information Dissemination in the Ministry of Information Communication Technology and National Guidance

OFFICIAL POSITION
The chairperson of the parliamentary committee on Agriculture, Ms Lowila Oketayot, told Daily Monitor at the weekend that the “Four-Acre Land Model” has not been catered for in the budget for the financial year 2018/2019 and its implementation will depend on collection of data, especially in the number of farmers who might be eligible for it.
“It has not been budgeted for and any kind of budget will depend on the outcome of a farmers’ registration exercise, which will help us to establish how many farmers can benefit from the model. Since we are also not sure about when this registration exercise will take place, we cannot not say whether it will start in the financial year 2019/2020 or the one after,” she said on phone.

Sources in the Ministry of Agriculture also indicated that the farmers’ registration had been budgeted for and earmarked to take place this financial year, but has been pegged back following disagreement between the ministry and the Uganda Bureau of Statistics (UBOS) over who should conduct it. UBOS is reportedly pushing for its implementation on grounds that the ministry does not have the required technical capacity.

MONITOR POSITION
The idea of creating four-acre land models looks great, at least on paper, but it has once again raised questions about the abilities of our planners and the NRM’s thinkers or the manifesto research and writing teams. It would appear that not enough attention was paid to the average land holdings in Uganda and the land tenure systems in various parts of the country.

While President Museveni and a host of government officials have been advising people against land fragmentation, one can hardly find any household with land holdings of four acres in most parts of central region, Busoga and parts of Bugisu. How then would a model like that be implemented in such areas unless it was designed for the benefit of a few and connected people who have over the last couple of years acquired huge chunks of land?

Of course, there are parts of this country such as Teso and Acholi sub-regions where it just might be possible to implement the model, but the biggest hurdle is the land tenure systems. It would not be possible for any particular family to cling on to a particular piece of land for so many years, which would be the ideal if the model were to work.
The situation now calls for the ruling NRM party to reconvene and involve other stakeholders in redesigning the programme if it is to succeed.
Finally, it is important that government moves to address the fights between ministries and government agencies over the implementation of government programmes. An example is the struggle between UBOS and the Ministry of Agriculture over the control of the farmers’ registration process. This should not be happening. It is high time government moved to end it.

imufumba@ug.nationmedia.com